No Great Shakes

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An idiom in use since the early 1800's.

Meaning of No Great Shakes

When something is no great shakes it is nothing out of the ordinary, not very good, mediocre, not very important, etc. Often referring to a person, it describes someone with little skill or value at what they do.

Usage

"Even after all the classes, Liona is no great shakes as an actor. She should stick to her day job."

"I made dinner but I warn you, I'm no great shakes at cooking."

Origin

The most common suggestion is that this idiom arose from playing dice, where if you shake the dice and have a bad throw you have had 'no great shake,' or the odd but apparently common notion that if you shake the device you will always have a bad throw. There are other idioms that seem also to be related to dice:

A fair shake - a fair chance or a fair bargain.
In two shakes - in a moment.

At one time, no great shake may have been used to mean 'a bad bargain' making it the opposite of a fair shake.

Another, quite old suggestions that turned up in the literature search is that it arose from the shaking of walnut trees to dislodge the nuts. If the walnut crop is not good, there will be 'no great shakes.'

As well, at one time, it was thought that the idiom came from the idea that you could judge someone's character from their handshake.

The most credible origin seems to be the first.

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